Thursday, January 21, 2016

Alpine Climbing at "The Buttress"

"The Buttress" as seen from "Four Pines" to the south of "The Village"

Rock Springs Buttress might be the best crag in Jackson Hole. It might be the best crag in Wyoming. It might be the best alpine trainer in the US. It might be a big pile of chossy shit--it's not that at all. When I moved to Jackson from Utah fifteen years ago, "The Buttress" was one of the first crags I visited. I suffered then from an inability to read metamorphic rock. I am over that now. The granite climbing in Utah and Yosemite and many other popular places is rather straightforward and obvious from the ground whilst looking for the routes on the cliff. Clean, obvious crack systems and sweeping blank slabs. In other words, its easy to see the routes and visualize yourself climbing them. Metamorphosed stone is another story all together.

The Buttress is a big combo of some of the world's oldest gneiss, schist and gabbro that got buried and metamorphosed by heat and pressure and then had granitic and dioritic intrusions shoved through and around it. What you are left with is a very chaotic looking cliff face that is very very climbable. In all reality, The Buttress could have a crimp line bolted about every eight feet. Greg Collins, Teton uber-alpinist and author of many of the best sport routes on The Buttress once called it "a steep purified version of the alpine stone in the higher peaks of the Tetons". A very good description. The more I understand the buttress, the more routes I see on the many "Park" walls I look at.

This south facing cliff sees a lot of traffic in the summer months mostly for the excellent bolted routes and the very climbable moderates. I am averse to the heat and I avoid the cliff in the summer months. I'm also "lazy" and I want my Buttress to be ski in and ski out.

During the Winter of 2013/14, I was once again trying to find ways to still do some alpine climbing while sticking to home and tending to my one year old and family. This translated to finding activities that could be done in a half day. So, I decided to put my JHMR ski pass to good use and try dry-tooling one of the easier routes on the face. The first time I set out to climb it this way, Mike Werner joined me for a lap on "Chuck's Road to Thailand". We had a great time. I climbed the route again in boots and crampons with Mike Mock. I went back to the buttress a third and a fourth time that winter (aside from countless mini-trax laps). Visit three was with Nate Fuller to do "The School Route" this was a lousy dry tooling affair and we climbed the whole route with bare hands and in our ice boots with no spikes. Round four was an ascent of the Exum Arete with Josh Wagner and Brian Mulvehill. This route was not the best dry-tooling affair either (except for the last pitch which is killer) so we did the bottom 2/3 of the route in boots and bare hands again.

Chuck's Road to Thailand 5.8

Chuck's Road with Werner

In the winter of 2014/2015, My steady ice/mountaineering partner, Sam Macke moved back to the valley from a stint in the Bay Area and we got after it. Our first foray was Chuck's Road to the last pitch of The Exum Arete and Sam on-sited the last pitch in dry tool mode. It was great. That day we skied past "The Big Slab" and decided right then and there that we would definitely climb that chossy, mossy, streaked wall and it would be fabulous.
Sam belaying a the top of the Exum Arete

Sam on "Piton Country"
Dry-tooling the rock routes on The Buttress in far from a new idea or new thing. At nearly forty years old, I am a relative "grom" in this scene. A few local hard-men who happen to be some of the best alpinists in the country have been tram-access tooling for many years. I am attempting to stand on their shoulders while very much looking up to them. One of those hard-men and author of many of the hardest rock routes up there told Sam that he left the big slab alone all these years cause it looks kind of junky. Thanks for saving it for us. Its perfect for Scottish style mixed routes.

The first new route we did was Piton Country. We climbed ground up on lead and drilled anchors at 30-meter increments. This route was pretty good though a little wandering. It is four short pitches and about M5/M6 the whole way. This route has the best potential to be an ice route of the three so far on the big slab.

The Red Route was the second route we put up last winter and it was a bit harder than its neighbor. This route is a straight rock climb though very tool-able. There are a few stretches of vertical, 5.10- crack climbing interspersed in a sea of excellent shattered metamorphosed granite. So far, this is my favorite of the three. I climbed it again a few weeks ago with Mike Mock and I got to lead the whole rig. It was super fun. I give the route a grade of M6+ 5.9+ and its really M7 if you do the last short burly pitch pictured below:

M7 pitch of The Red Route

start of pitch two (Super Trad) is a bit runout and a little hard--
I froze ass on the belay after this lead-Doh!

Sam's and My third and final new route for the season was an exercise in progression and I'm glad we had done the other slab routes first as "Super Trad" turned out to be the hardest and most serious of the three. This route had the most direct and sustained stretches of vertical dry tooling and in a few spots it was a little sparse on pro. We called this route M6+. We drilled anchors and not lead bolts but for the route to be safe and enjoyable it needs about fifteen bolts added to it. Perhaps at some point we will fix it and change it's name to something else like maybe super-retro-ed..

turns out "Effed" up old crampons are the best for rock climbing

This whole tram-access alpine climbing obsession started out as a funny little way to do a little "training". Now it has become one of my main sources of climbing. After all the time I've spent hanging from tools on The Buttress I now feel so much more solid on rock and ice routes elsewhere. We are lucky to have this crag minutes from our doorsteps. I'll take the stink eye in the tramline any day in trade for some ski-in-ski-out Buttress.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dread Falls, Death Canyon

A few weeks ago, Macke and I wandered in to an empty Death Canyon on a beautiful Sunday morning. We looked around and originally wanted to repeat Collins' new mixed affair called Canada Refional Air. After seeing a fully formed Dread Falls the decision was all but made for us: three long pitches of water ice South facing... 

The route got its name from the first attempt which ended in a dangerous and long fall. Falling off ice pitches is bad mmmmm-k. 

Here's a link to a brief, low budget vid of the climbing:

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cascade Canyon-World Class Alpine Climbing

Six weeks ago Sam and I climbed a 1000' mixed route on the south face of Storm Point. I made a short "topo-style" video from the day we sent it.

We made three trips in there last fall/early winter. Two trips we were able to ride bikes in there. The third trip we skied. Here are a few photos:

I made these "scrampons" for the trip. They worked pretty well. The archaic non-adjusting Cassin heel bail gave me blisters bad--within the first few of about fifteen miles of travel. 
Making my scrampons was pretty easy. 

The hardest part of the whole operation was cannibalizing a old shitty pair of AT boots with a sawzall.
This was my kit for the mixed rig.

As far as I know, Renny Jackson and Hans Johnstone climbed the route some years ago. I wasn't able to get much info from either of them regarding that ascent. Every time I go ice climbing in The Park, I realize the potential for more excellent alpine ice and mixed routes. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Teton Climbing Videos

Last winter was a banner winter. Not so much for skiing. Good thing I like ski touring and alpine skiing on the hard pack. Milder winters favor alpinism in the Tetons. Typical butt-arse cold winters create a situation where it's plain too cold for any ice to grow on our range.

Here is the video I made from Sam and I the day we climbed the "goulotte" between the Teepe Pillar and the Glencoe Spire. The guidebook for the Tetons is very sparse on info for ice climbing and says that Steve Shae and David Breashears did the FA. Guidebook gives no rating and said "incomplete" without further explanation. We found WI5 and M5 by modern standards. 

The other climbing vid I made last year was from a really fun trip I made with Nate Fuller and Sam Macke. We climbed the upper Exum ridge in full storm conditions. We were pleasantly surprised with a fair amount of water ice on the ridge that day as well.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Limestone Under the Tram

Dear The Toon,

The summer after your first birthday you finally learned to sleep and you slept a lot. Twelve hours a night and regular three hour naps. I discovered that I could take you up the tram in the morning, go home for lunch and put you down for a nap. During the nap I would rush to the tram and run down to the "dad crag" and rap down my fixed lines to work on the routes. I was able to do a lap on the cliff and be home in time for you to wake up from the nap.

The sport climbs in Corbets Couloir had been established several years ago but the climbers had left everything west of the Couloir alone. The first time I went down there I climbed the route called "The Toon Stand". The name came from what we called your toddler downward dog. You were so cute at 1.5! I rope soloed the route drilling anchors along the way. I thought the climbing would be laughably bad as it looks so loose from the tram. I was surprised to find quality rock and fun climbing. I left ropes there that day and went back again and again all summer. Below are the routes I put up that summer:

Mountain Project entry for the routes under the tram:
the four big trad routes from the first summer of work on the crags

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Letter To My Daughter, Back to Blogging

Dear Sullivan,

I have not updated my online journal since April 2014. It has been one year and eight months since I last entered an account of my mountain adventures. When I attended the Pierra Menta, I was at the end of my rope with racing and very tired. You were just one year old and you had terrible ear infections for the entire first year of your life. Your Mother and I didn’t sleep for more than four hours in a stretch for that whole first year. A few weeks after I returned from France you got ear tube surgery and everyone’s life got a lot better.

In the last year and a half we have done a lot of fun stuff. The tram at the ski area became our best friend. I bet we rode the tram together nearly 40 times. Waffles and little hikes were the highlight. You love love loved the paragliders. Please don’t do that till you are older, or ever, pretty please… We went to Zion, Arizona and California. The plane rides was were big favorites for you too. Find ways to do that as much as possible I say!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pierra Menta Final Stage

The Professor and I finished the race and raced well during the final stage. This has easily been the hardest race I've ever entered or finished. Areches Beaufort, a hidden gem of a place in the Savoie region of France has hosted this race for 29 years now and it is clear that the race has become an important part of the local tradition and economy. I am very very glad we made the sacrifices we have made to participate in the 29th edition.
photo stolen from (iconic mt. blanc background)